Accompaniment 

I just arrived at a hotel where R and I are staying the night before her first marathon. Since I forgot my computer at home, I’m typing out today’s post on my phone (and starting to regret my decision to blog every day for a year). 

Anyway, I’m reflecting on how proud I will be tomorrow as I witness R running just over 42 kilometres. A marathon is no easy feat, so completing this race will be a significant accomplishment which required many months of preparation. 

It’s a privilege to journey with others as they take on challenges or face adversity. Whether supporting a spouse, child, family member, co-worker, neighbour, or someone needing assistance in the community, it’s a humbling and precious experience to accompany people in the midst of their victories and losses and on the paths they take to get there. 

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Etched From Stone

When we lived in Zimbabwe, I enjoyed visiting areas where local artists displayed their stone sculptures.  Whether working with serpentine or soapstone or another form of mineral, the Shona sculptors possessed the ability to carve people, animals and intricate shapes from rough pieces of rock that they then smoothed and polished into beautiful pieces of art.

Before we returned to Canada, I purchased a number of Shona sculptures of various sizes, designs and colours that captured my interest. While most of our sculptures are polished and completed, my favourites are the ones that feature rough stone on the outer edges, showcasing the rawness of the original rock.

My most treasured piece of stone art, however, is a small and unfinished sculpture that I found in a junk pile. From the rear, it looks like an ordinary rock that wouldn’t warrant a second glance, but when you turn it around, you can see the carving of a man emerging from a dark cave. There is something so simple but yet profoundly human about the carving despite the fact that it was never completed. I’ve often wondered if the artist felt he messed up the carving and then decided it wasn’t worth salvaging.

I’m drawn to a similar rawness in other people. When they come across as too polished and complete, I feel as though there is something artificial or manufactured about them. They’re nice to look at and admire, but I can only guess at how they became that way. I like to discover a bit of the rough stone that they’ve been etched from as this portrays a work of art that is authentic, alluring and unfinished.

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Faith in Humanity

As much as possible, I try to focus on what is good in the world and to appreciate the generous and thoughtful actions of others. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to understand what motivates people to do the things they do.

For example, today the following happened:

  1. Someone decided to leave a disgusting mess all over the toilet seat in the washroom at work and didn’t even bother to flush. Surely the person must have known that wasn’t appropriate, so why do that in a place you work with others?
  2. A man ahead of me on the sidewalk deliberately tossed a food wrapper on the ground and kept walking without even looking to see if anyone was watching. He was metres away from a garbage container.
  3. I made the mistake of reading the comment sections on some online news sites. There are very few activities that can destroy one’s faith in humanity quicker than reading the online comments submitted by anonymous trolls.

On a positive note, two strangers running by on our street helped us to corner our puppy who had escaped from the house. They didn’t even bother to stop their watches first (that’s a big deal for runners).

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My Own Story

Each month my son, B, is required to complete a homework assignment as part of his martial arts program. This month’s assignment focused on personal responsibility and included this short poem:

“I’m the one who writes my own story
I decide the kind of person I will be
What goes in the story and what does not
Is pretty much up to me.”

While it certainly won’t win the Griffin Poetry Prize, the poem did challenge my son to be accountable for his own actions and behaviours. When asked to explain what the words meant to him, B said, “You get to decide who you are. I want to be me—a good guy; nice.”

This evening as I reflect on the poem, I’m challenged to continue writing my own story. While I can’t control what will happen to me in the future, I can determine what kind of person I want to be and how I will respond to the challenges and opportunities that come my way.

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Smash

In Grade 9, I went on a class trip to a camp located near Thunder Bay, Ont. I have many vivid memories from this adventure, such as canoeing across a lake to see a beautiful waterfall, going on my first solo trail run in the woods, and attending a scary séance led by a strange girl who had recently transferred to our school.

On the final night of our stay, we were treated to a raging bonfire that was surrounded by a circle of old cars and trucks. I’m not sure if we were given permission to do this, but at some point in the evening many of us started jumping up and down on the cars and trucks and smashing in the windows and metal frames with large tree branches that been cut down for the fire. This night remains the wildest and most reckless experience of my life.

Now that I’m old and boring, I spend my days focused on protecting and repairing my employer’s brand and reputation. Sometimes I wish I could regain the freedom to simply smash and destroy something large and breakable with complete abandon. Perhaps I should consider changing my hobby from running to home renovation.

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A Child’s Prayer

Each night before going to sleep, K says a short prayer in his bed. The first part is a summary in which he says thank you to God for the people in his life and for what he experienced during the day.

Although the opening section constantly changes depending on K’s daily activities, the conclusion to his prayer is always the same. These are his words:

“Please be with all the children around the world and take good care of them, especially those who are feeling sick or lonely or who don’t have moms or dads.”

Regardless of people’s religious views, I wonder how different the world would be if everyone took a moment at the end of their day to think about the welfare of vulnerable children and other marginalized people in our communities.

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Math Problems

Last night I woke from a dream in which I was panicking because I hadn’t taken a math class that was necessary for my high school diploma. I often had these dreams during my first year of university but they stopped soon after I attended my high school graduation.

I completed high school over 25 years ago and have since received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Even if I did need the extra math class, I’m not giving back the degrees or going back to high school.

I’m not sure where this dream came from after all these years, but the experience does make me wonder where my fears go once I’ve found a solution or resolution. Are the fears expunged from my memory, or are they simply buried deep within my mind with the ability to rise up again unexpectedly to haunt me? What does it take to eliminate my fears (especially the ridiculous ones) completely?

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Manure

When we lived in Zimbabwe, I grew vegetables in four large garden plots behind our home. I planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, aubergine, peppers and various types of lettuce, so we always had a consistent supply of fresh produce. I also cultivated a small garden plot below our guava trees for herbs and strawberries.

Before moving to Zimbabwe, I knew nothing about gardening. Thankfully one of our friends, M, had studied agriculture in university when he lived in Congo Brazzaville, and he took great interest in teaching me. M showed me how to till the soil in our backyard and how to plant vegetables from seeds and seedlings. In order to promote growth, we also burned some maize husks and scattered and stirred the ash into the soil.

In addition to the ash, M told me I needed to acquire some cow manure to enrich the soil. One of my neighbours, C, often travelled around the country to visit farms and agricultural projects, so I asked if he could get me some manure.

A week later, I came home and found two large bags of cow manure in my backyard. I went to work right away, breaking up the cow pats with my hands over the garden plots and then mixing the manure into the soil with a rake. This took me almost two hours, but I was excited to have completed the task myself. I was becoming a real farmer.

When C came by later, he asked about the manure. I said thanks and told him I’d put it in the garden already. He looked at me incredulously and asked, “All of it?” It turns out that there was enough manure in the two bags for all of our neighbours.

That day I learned that sometimes shit is a valuable resource that promotes vibrant growth, and that a little bit of it goes a long way. You don’t need (or want) too much of it in your life or in your garden. I was also reminded of how easily westerners like me can waste resources that could benefit a whole neighbourhood.

I did, however, grow some spectacular tomatoes and onions after I added the manure to the garden, so perhaps a big dump of it is a good thing from time to time.

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Tighten

I’m currently in the Minneapolis airport on a layover while travelling from Indianapolis to Winnipeg. During my first flight I experienced what the pilot referred to as “extreme turbulence.” It’s not often that the flight attendants are instructed to remain buckled into their seats for the entire duration of the journey.

When the plane hit the worst of the turbulence, it rocked, rattled and shook for a prolonged period of time. The woman sitting next to me gripped her armrests tightly and her face turned pallid and tense. The other passengers were bobbing up and down in their seats and bumping into each other’s shoulders. This was the only time I’ve ever seen people en masse put down their phones and tablets voluntarily without being instructed to do so.

Then the voice of a flight attendant came through the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, tighten up those seat belts.” And so I did, and found that I immediately stopped flailing around so much in my seat. There was nothing I could do to change the turbulence, but I felt more secure and safe while I waited for the worst to pass.

Over the past few months I’ve often felt like I’m on a journey I can’t get off of and on a trajectory I can’t change. Today’s flight taught me that while I may feel powerless and vulnerable at times, it’s always possible to find security and safety even in the midst of extreme turbulence. I just need to remember what to tighten around me.

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Circles

When I was in Grade One, my best friends lived in the sky. I would see them at recess and at lunch when I went outside to the school playground.

If you look up at the sky and then focus intently, you will notice that there are countless little circles bouncing around. I thought these swirling dots were sentient beings that could hear me when I spoke to them.

In Grade Two, my best friend was named Roberto. He lived in a house down the street from me and once gave me a bloody nose with a quick left jab. I didn’t tell him about the circles and I think it’s been 37 years since I’ve even thought about them. I can still see them (I checked the sky today), but I don’t talk to them—or Roberto—anymore.

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